The fall of 1984 I had just finished my second year of professional flying. We were living north of Paul Idaho and were working in the potato harvest with my family. Mom and dad were still on their original homestead along with another 160 acres that they had added through the years and 2 of my brothers had bought farms nearby and all were farming collectively sharing equipment but each with their own farm and financing.
Each year they would rent 160 acres of fresh ground to grow spuds. Fresh ground meaning ground that had been in alfalfa or grain for a few years and was ready to grow another crop of famous Idaho potatoes.
As a family, Joy and I and our 4 kids had spent the summer in South Dakota, Crop Dusting. Joy and the kids had went home in time to start the 3 oldest ones in school. After I was finished I flew the airplane back to Davenport Washington as it was on lease from there and caught an airline from Spokane to Twin Falls Idaho; just in time to kelp with harvest.
We had been back in Idaho from Montana coming on 2 years that December and was unsure where, if at all, we fit with my families farming. My interest was in aviation, Crop Dusting specifically and cattle; range cows. I hadn’t convinced myself that I was going to be able to make either work anywhere near my family.
From the spring of 1976 when I graduated from college until December of 1982 we had been exclusively in the cow business, managing ranches and running a few cows on the side, trying to build a herd of our own so we might stand a chance of leasing a place someday with an option to buy. That was a very illusive dream that was frustratingly out of reach each year after our best efforts. While we were in Montana we felt like we were getting closer but the opportunities continued to slip through our hands.
I had been working on my flying ratings since we were first married and had finished my Instrument and Commercial ratings while in Montana. The flying season of 1984 was a good season both experience and money wise and gave us hope for a good future as a seasonal pilot. In the meantime I continued to hustle at just about any job I could make a dollar at.
After the harvest was over I would start looking to line up next seasons flying. I needed night time experience and flight time behind a radial engine; turbine powered aircraft were a few years down the road for me at that time.
The potato ground that dad had leased was somewhere down off of what was called the Northside where their home place was. After loading the spud trucks in the field from a harvester we would tarp the loads and pick up 400 west and head north to the Adelaide cellars where Simplot would weigh our trucks in loaded and out after unloading and take delivery of the spuds.
It was a Saturday morning and I was heading out with my first load. If I unloaded quick enough I was going to go by the house and pick our youngest daughter and have her ride with me for awhile. She was coming up on her 3rd birthday that fall and where Joy and I were both helping in the harvest the 4 kids were home alone. We checked on them as much as we could and would haul them with us whenever possible so they weren’t completely unattended.
It was beautiful fall day and I was day dreaming about riding a few colts later that fall before winter set in but not distracted so much that I forgot to drive the truck. The farm land there was still fairly wide open but there were a few intersections that had proved hazardous through the years especially during Pheasant hunting season, which was at that time of year.
I had climbed up the hill from the Old Project and was now on the Northside and rolling along at about 50 miles an hour. Not much traffic yet but the day was fairly early, although I didn’t anticipate a lot of traffic other than a few spud trucks like mine and farm machinery.
I had passed 700 north and then 800 north and all was quiet. About a half a mile past 900 north I noticed a spud truck pulling out from a spud cellar and heading east on 1000 north; he was to the west or to my left. We would cross paths as 400 west and 1000 north intersected but there shouldn’t be any problem, at least I didn’t anticipate one.
The truck that I was driving was one of my dad’s ten wheeler’s, it was an International with a diesel engine and saddle tanks; lots of extra fuel. The way the driver seat was designed I sat rather high in the cab to make the clutch, brake and steering wheel easy access. The problem with that was the top of the left door blocked my peripheral vision and I had to duck my head to look to the left for a clear view of traffic.
As I came up on the intersection I looked left to see where the other truck was. I should have looked a few seconds earlier.
The east and west traffic had a yield sign and north and south had the right-of-way, it never dawned on me that he wouldn’t yield to traffic; he was in my lap.
He was so close to coming through my door that there was paint off of the front of his truck on the left door jam of my truck. Most of the impact went into the frame of my truck between the cab and rear wheels destroying the saddle tank jn the process. Had it been gasoline we would have went up in flames.
I’m not sure how fast he was going but he was heading straight through the intersection east bound; my best guess would be around 45 miles per hour.
When I first glanced under the door frame so I could see where he was and realized he was right there I figured I was dead. After the initial impact I was shocked and thrilled that I was still amongst the living. His truck was empty and the impact threw is truck nearly a 180 degrees, tearing the front axle off, the truck ended up facing Northwest and tossing him out of the cab.
The impact had started my truck careening and I was struggling to get it under control when it hit the northeast shoulder of the intersection sideways. As the wheels dug into the soft dirt the truck rolled over twice settling upright on it’s wheels also facing Northwest.
As the truck started to roll I put a death grip, no pun intended, on the steering wheel with both hands and dug my boots into the floor of the cab. The back of legs were black and blue from the exertion for several weeks afterwards but I ended up sitting in the seat with with my death grip still on the steering wheel as the truck settled upright.
People have asked me how I knew the truck rolled twice, how I would have that much awareness during those circumstances. You don’t have to be an aerobatic pilot to verify that your truck rolled twice; I knew it did as I saw the horizon rotate and could feel my body rolling with the truck as I hung on with all my strength.
I sat there for a moment taking stock in what had just happened and letting my death grip relax. I rolled the window down as the door was jammed and climbed out. I stepped onto about a foot and a half of potato’s. A 10 wheeler holds about 30,000 pounds of spuds and they were scattered all over; some were covered with diesel and some weren’t.
The kid that was driving the other truck came staggering towards me holding his head with one hand crying that Steve was going to kill him; Steve being the owner of the other truck. I though that there might be some truth to that but I was furious enough to consider killing him at the moment. That thought didn’t last but a heartbeat and I was actually rather grateful that we were both alive.
Legally he was at fault as he blew the yield sign but I had to take some of the blame as I hadn’t seen where he was as I approached the intersection. I might have been able to avoid the crash but if he would have blown that yield sign in front of me I would have followed him and beat his ass for being so stupid. I found out later that he had been driving like that all fall; it was only a matter of time.
He ended up with a ticket and we both took a ride in an ambulance to the hospital. I wasn’t happy to be in the same ambulance with him but what really fired me up was when we got to the hospital he was crying about being hit at an intersection and the nurses were all sympathetic to his plight as he had torn his spleen, I finally lost my cool and let them know that he was the one who came through the intersection and tried to kill me. They all thought that I was being a jerk so eventually I shut up and walked out of the hospital. My ride was there and I didn’t want to be around the whole cry baby mess.
On the way to the hospital at Rupert, the ambulance driver drove past the turn to the hospital. It cracked me up a little but I didn’t laugh out loud about it. I couldn’t help but think how ironic it would be to die a quarter mile from the hospital after what I had just survived only because the ambulance driver got lost.
Other than I was sore and banged up a bit I wasn’t hurt.
If ever I have been kissed on the lips by death that was one of those moments. I came very close to making my bride a 30 year old widow with 4 kids to raise on her own. I have no doubt that she would have remarried and I’m certain my dad would have made sure she was a million dollar widow. I think she would take me over a cool million but aside from that, 40 years later we have had 2 more sons, 2 dozen plus grand kids, 2 great grand sons and one hell of adventure that includes 27 years and 12,000 hours of professional flying. And now we are watching our kids live and fulfill their dreams.
As I am writing this, one of our sons that was born after that accident is in Qatar on his way to whatever hot spot is flaring up in the Middle East with his SOST team and the very youngest of our 6 kids is in Honduras flying a Chinook for the Army; it’s his second tour of duty there and after that he and his family are headed to Alaska for a 3 year assignment.
Whatever angel was watching over me at that moment I’ll have to be sure and thank when I meet them; I’m just glad the meeting wasn’t at that moment.